Americana A to Z: Sand Rubies (Sidewinders)

Jimi Hendrix doesn’t really qualify as Americana but a quote from his lyrics can come in handy here – “Is it love, or is it confusion?” Both things can really apply to this Arizona band that started out in the Eighties, a somewhat strange period for Americana artists. They started out as Sidewinders but had to change the name after two albums to Sand Rubies. It all started well (with love) with a couple of songs even reaching the charts and ended up in confusion when things started going downhill, irrespective of the quality of music.

Very often, when recaps of the music in the eighties are made, Americana artists seem to be mention only as a footnote. But, when you take a thorough look back, that decade brought along a series of artists that later on turned out to be not only recognized in the Americana music circles but also very influential in the way the genre developed.

Think about it – the Eighties essentially brought along names like Green On Red, Giant Sand, Rank and File, Blood on the Saddle, House of Freaks, and in many ways that list can include Dream Syndicate and Yo La Tengo. Many of the artists from those bands went on to make their mark on the current Americana sound, either in other bands or as solo artists.

But, then there were Sand Rubies, or Sidewinders, as they initially started out. Initially, a quartet comprising of Rich Hopkins on guitar and vocalist David Slutes, the initial lineup that started out as Sidewinders included two drummers (Jonathan Frank, Bruce Halper).

They issued three albums under that name and those releases actually brought them two chart entries (‘Witch Doctor’ at #18 in 1989 and ‘We Don’t Do That Anymore’ at #23 in 1990).  That is probably what caught the attention of another band from North Carolina with the same name who promptly sued them (actually, it seems that earlier there existed a soul band that also operated under the same name).

Hopkins and Slutes changed the name of the band to Sand Rubies, and the drummers left, but the reputation of the charting singles followed them on, at least for a while. So much so, that at one point Pearl Jam was their opening act. But, essentially, Hopkins and Slutes never really recovered as a band from their legal hassles, as they kept disbanding and re-forming up into the new century. Hopkins also kept cropping up under his own name as Rich Hopkins & The Luminarios, while Slutes cropped up here and there, without any formal solo releases.

But why should Americana fans take notices of Sand Rubies (Sidewinders)? Essentially, the band was among those that were able to make a successful marriage of American country/folk sounds with driving guitar music, anywhere between The Byrds’ chiming guitars and the more harder-edged sound of power-poppers like Cheap Trick. Listening to the three Sidewinders and seven releases as Sand Rubies, you can still experience the rush and excitement this sound combination brought along the way back then. It is time for some quality re-assessment. 

Discography:

Sidewinders

Cuacha! (San Jacinto Records), 1988; re-released twice
Witchdoctor (Mammoth Records/RCA Records), 1989
7 & 7 Is EP (Mammoth/RCA), 1990
Do Not Play This Disc For Educational Purposes Only (Mammoth/RCA) (Promo-only, 1990, 7 tracks)
Auntie Ramos’ Pool Hall (Mammoth/RCA) 1990
The Sidewinders Sessions (Contingency Records), 1998

Sand Rubies

Goodbye EP (Polydor Records/Atlas Records), 1993
Sand Rubies (Polydor Records/Atlas Records), 1993
Sand Rubies Live (San Jacinto Records), 1996
Return of the Living Dead (San Jacinto Records)/(Contingency Records), 1998
Release the Hounds (San Jacinto Records)/(Contingency Records), 1999
Goodbye: Live at Alte Malzerei (San Jacinto Records)/(Blue Rose Records), 2002
Mas Cuacha (San Jacinto Records)/(Blue Rose Records), 2007

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